After 13 years, Valerie Martino is putting her Unicorn Hard-On moniker on ice. The Providence, Rhode Island, artist has no intention of quitting music, but she feels that the time has come to reboot her musical identity. "I feel a need to break free of the rules I had for UHO," she explained over email. "I want to try new elements and expand beyond its sound." Dream Machine is a fitting final act. By merging the myriad elements that have defined Martino's project throughout its evolution, she has created a record that skillfully blends where Unicorn Hard-On started and where it wound up.
These six tracks are intensely minimal and repetitive, with schemes that could only exist after the process of creating 2013's Weird Universe. That Spectrum Spools album was transformative, as it found the producer whittling down her sound to its barest essentials: little more than contorted acid, stabbing percussion and lumbering beats. Dream Machine's best example of this is "Miss Maddox." Five minutes of throbbing, grinding and stuttering, it sounds like its sole purpose is to drill a hole to the center of the Earth. The title track is nearly as bare bones, but it strikes a different emotional chord. The piece comprises a synth motif that flickers hypnotically, while snares and hi-hates pop up willy-nilly like a game of whack-a-mole.
If Dream Machine's tight compositions reflect the latest developments of Unicorn Hard-On, then the scuffed eccentricities and boombox fuzz reach back to its early years. "Florida Water" and the spazzoid "Echo Palm" tap into a weird, gnarled brand of groove exploration that recalls 2007's Sweet Teeth cassette. Both tracks update Martino's past preoccupation with distortion-caked hybrids of sickly sweet dance-pop and creepy cyborg sputtering. A crucial benefit to these tough and abrasive textures is that they lend several tracks a rowdy, live feel. It sounds like being at one of her shows, swaying and head-banging in front of her tabletop of Electribes, Roland TB-3 and Doepfer gear. "Wave Vacation" is the kind of acid-electro fist-pumper that Martino could write in her sleep, but because it has enough chaotic fizz, it comes alive in a rare way.
If Dream Machine isn't Unicorn Hard-On's finest release, then it's certainly the most complete. It takes all the fuzzy, beastly charms Martino has explored through the years and stuffs them into songs that are efficient, magnetic and expertly sculpted.
Tracklist01. Wave Vacation
02. Dream Machine
03. Echo Palm
04. The Mystifying Oracle
05. Miss Maddox
06. Florida Water